Human Reasoning Now Understood Through a Study of Rats' Ability to Link Cause and Effect

by Manisha Shroff on March 31, 2015 at 5:29 PM
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 Human Reasoning Now Understood Through a Study of Rats' Ability to Link Cause and Effect

A new study has indicated that even rats have similar traits like humans and can imagine and have the ability to link cause and effect such that they can expect, or imagine, something happening even if it isn't. The study conducted by Cognitive Neuroscience Society is important to understanding human reasoning, especially in older adults, as aging degrades the ability to maintain information about unobserved events.

Aaron Blaisdell of the University of California, Los Angeles, asserted that what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is the prodigious ability to reason but what about human reasoning is truly a human-unique feature and what aspects are shared with their nonhuman relatives.


Blaisdell's work draws from long-understood ideas from Pavlov and others that when a rat (or dog or pigeon) observes one event followed by another, such as a tone followed by food, it forms an association between the events. After the association is formed, whenever the rat hears the tone, it expects food to follow.

The researchers have found that rats can also make rational inferences about their own actions. Take the example of the light as a common cause of both tone and food. If researchers allow the rat to press a lever to turn on the tone, then the rat no longer expects food; the rat understands that it was the cause of the tone and not the light, thereby changing the expectation of food.

Blaisdell and his colleagues have found a shared neurological mechanism between rats and people for counterfactual reasoning in the hippocampus - a brain structure very vulnerable to age-related decline, including in Alzheimer's disease. Researchers already know that the hippocampus is involved in counterfactual thinking in people. When Blaisdell's team temporarily inactivated part of the hippocampus in rats, they were no longer able to hold in their mind the image of the absent light.

Daniel Krawczyk of the University of Texas, Dallas said that reasoning was one of the major functions humans carried out in daily life and people also have a lot of conscious insight about their reasoning, while having some critical gaps in insight, which made it a fascinating topic in life and in science.

Krawczyk said that Individuals with autism, however, drew appropriate analogies between cartoon scenes the same way that healthy control individuals did.

Source: Medindia

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